In a cemetery complex tucked off of Deep Creek Boulevard and Pulaski Street, Nadia Orton tiptoes among the dead.
Stepping on the sunken, wet ground, Orton keeps an eye out for feral dogs that have roamed the field for the last few months.
“I think they were marking their territory,” she said.
But the dogs are mistaken. This grave site doesn’t belong to them. Orton says it belongs to the city, to the community, to the families of the 8,000-plus people who lay in one of Portsmouth’s oldest black cemeteries, referred to as the Mount Calvary Cemetery Complex. Some scholars estimate 15,000 may lie at the site originally used when burials were segregated. It formally opened in 1879, though some burials happened earlier.
Notables like former slave-turned-newspaper columnist Jeffrey T. Wilson is buried there. So is prominent black educator I.C. Norcom, though his gravestone has vanished. Children’s advocate Ida Barbour rests there, too, along with musicians, oystermen and business leaders. Orton wants their legacy to stand for generations to come. READ MORE